This last week has been a struggle. It has been little different from the weeks before it, but this week I have felt confined, disappointed that I could not see friends and family face-to-face and have missed my freedom to go to different places. I have not even been out of the house this week.
Before this time of lockdown I did not appreciate how freeing it is to write and to read the thoughts of others. Our words can escape the confines of our homes. In them, we can share and experience a closeness that our limited bodies cannot. I feel so much better now having written and shared some thoughts, that might help you, and others who read them; that might encourage you and help us both to realise that we are going through this time together.
As the leaves burst on the trees outside my office window, and the ferns growing in the garden unfurl their leaves in the spring sunshine I am reminded how many weeks ago it was that lockdown came. Turning on the television we hear those in authority repeating the government’s mantra, ‘stay home, stay safe, protect the NHS and save lives’, reminding us that all the freedoms that we gave up, we laid down for a purpose, the purpose of saving lives.
I am sure that Saul found lockdown a struggle some weeks. He loved to travel and had made many friends in the different places that he had lived and so staying at home was not part of his normal pattern of life. But travel and meeting people are risky activities because this is how contagion spreads. The authorities feared that Saul was a carrier of a new and unknown ‘contagion’ and so they had acted in the best interests of the public and had put him in lockdown.
For someone who travelled so much, lockdown was not as unfamiliar to Saul as you might expect. He had been in lockdown before.
To be fearful of a new and novel contagion is a natural human response it seems. To ensure that things go on unchanged, our businesses our social life, our freedoms, is the responsibility of the authorities that we place ourselves under. Those who challenge this norm, threatening change, must be restricted. Saul had therefore found that as a carrier, he was under the regular threat of lockdown.
Saul’s lockdown this time, involved not only being confined to his home but also being chained to a guard. He didn’t mind this too much because it gave him someone to talk to and the guard often changed. Being in lockdown gave him time to think, to remember what had brought him to this place, the decisions he had made in life, good and bad, the people he had met and the challenges he had faced in his travels.
Lockdown is never comfortable, but Saul knew that the lockdown he was living in was ‘a walk in the park’ compared to that his friend had lived through. The friend that Saul had caught the contagion from. The authorities, back in Saul’s home city, had taken drastic action to stem the spread of a new ‘disease’, and they had decided to ‘lock-down’ Saul’s friend once and for all. Permanently. First, they made sure that he was dead and then they locked him down in a grave. For the public good, Saul’s friend was beaten, tortured and buried. At first, Saul had been like everyone else, fearful of an epidemic and so he had chosen to join the clean-up team, locking down anyone who may have been infected by what this man had spread.
But that was all a long time ago. Saul saw things differently now. He had come to realise that what people feared the most, wasn’t disease, but was death itself. Strangely too, Saul had met this friend, after he had come out of lockdown, after he had walked out of his grave. Saul’s friend proved that there was life beyond death. That there was hope, there was joy, and there was forgiveness for all the bad things that Saul had done.
It was this news, that the authorities did not want everyone to know. It was this news that Saul found he could not do anything but spread. It was news that was contagious. And Saul realised too that because his friend had been through the pain, the torture and death so that Saul might have life, that his own discomfort was of little consequence. Sometimes Saul found that he was pleased that he too had suffered, whilst sharing this news, because it made him feel close to his friend, and what he had gone through for him.
The authorities still chose to try to prevent the spread of the contagion and so Saul found himself in lockdown more than once. But with lockdown came opportunity. Opportunity to reflect, to pray and to write. His sight had been damaged, the time he was almost blinded by a bright light and so he needed someone else to write for him, but this was a small inconvenience.
He remembered the time he was in lockdown in the small-town prison. How he had taken the opportunity, even as the earthquake had struck, to pray and to praise God for the hope he had. It was his singing in the middle of the night which had reassured the others with him that things would be ok. It was his certainty that there was life beyond death and that there was hope, that had saved the life of his jailer, and that of his entire family.
Saul’s friend is called Jesus. Jesus walked out of his own tomb, proving that the God of the Bible exists, and that he has the power to bring life out of death. This life he freely offers to anyone who will call on his name, just as Saul did. In Jesus, there is hope, even in lockdown. There is life, even without a vaccine, there is hope and there is a future that is good.
I have been so encouraged this week, as I have thought about Saul, and about his letters that we have today, saved in the pages of the New Testament. Letters that tell us about Jesus, that tell us about Saul’s time in lockdown, that tell us to keep hoping and praying and trusting that the one who went through the ultimate lockdown, death, and came out again alive, promises the same for each one of us who put our trust in him.
If any of this is new to you, may I encourage you today to open the Bible and to read about Saul (Saul is the Jewish form of the Greek name Paul) and about his friend Jesus. If you are worried about what tomorrow or even today might bring, know this; the God who made the universe knows and cares about you, your concerns and your life. He cares so much that he sent his only son, to take on all the worst the world can throw at us, to share our living and our dying and to offer us new life and new hope in him.
Saul found in Jesus, courage in the face of death, freedom and forgiveness from all his past mistakes, and a burning desire to share this good news with everyone he could. In lockdown, he ministered to his captors, communicated in every way he could with those he could contact, to share with them the good news that they too, even if they were in lockdown themselves, could face death with courage, knowing that it is not the end, and that they could live with hope and joy regardless of their circumstances.
Writing letters in the ancient world was a very expensive and time-consuming activity. Letters had to be carried by hand and read to those who needed to hear what they said. Today may I encourage you, as you experience lockdown in your own home, to be inspired by Saul’s determination, to use whatever method was available to him to share this good news with anyone you are able to connect with. Saul’s words, and those of his friends, have changed the lives, have saved the lives of many millions who have read them in the intervening centuries. Maybe your words might save someone’s life today.